by YONA C. RIEL

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Dios de los Muertos

     Perhaps because I lived in San Francisco for so many years with it's enormous hispanic community my version of Halloween in much more akin to Dios de los Muertos; a celebration of those who have died.
     Every year on November 1st and 2nd all over Mexico people 'celebrate' the lives of their beloved dead ones.   Lovers, brothers, mothers and sisters not to mention 1st and 2nd cousins and anyone else deemed important.  Little skeletons of these special people are made, often doing what the person being honored used to do.  In my collection of 'skeletons' one is a camping scene.  Two skeletons with yellow hats are sitting under a full moon playing music as they lean up against a Joshua tree.  Laying at their feet, is a sleepy eyed dog, just waiting for the next adventure.  The most recent addition to my 'skeleton family' is a sexy woman in a red dress showing just a bit of leg.  I love the playful nature of Dios de los Muertos which is why I have been wanting to go to Mexico during the holiday for over a decade to celebrate.
     I am so happy to say this is the year.  Because (due to my own recent near death experience) I couldn't possibly go alone I am going with Michael deMeng (google him, he's fab)  and a group of a dozen or so others.   Michael is an awesome assemblage artist who I met several years ago at Artfest.  He was teaching a class on using old polaroids as mini canvases.  The end product was a 3 dimensional piece that you looked into as if it was a little world inside a 3" x 3" frame.   I would have dig around really deep in my old files to find the pictures.  So you will just have to trust me on this one when i say they were 'fricken awesome'.

  


    It's occurring to me as i write this that both of my most recent pieces have had a distinctly hispanic edge to them.  In my piece called 'the resurrection of Yo' she looks to me like she was born and raised in Oaxaca.  The piece I did at Art and Soul begins with a drawing of a skeleton's head with a blood red path that flows from the area where the doctors drilled into my head.  No wonder the minute I saw the drawing I knew I had to work with it.  (There's a small picture below... before I worked with it and another one after.  I am aware that many might see it as a tortured soul sort of piece.   Especially if you don't notice all the music that frames the collage.  But it was really done in the spirit of Dios de los Muertos; a tribute to my previous self and to the new person I hope to become.

      Nothing like a 'near death experience' to turn one's life around.  And I am so looking forward to this trip to Oaxaca, Mexico and all the transformations it promises to bring. Many, many pictures when I get back, I promise.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Art and Soul and community...

     I am sitting here in my living room, pellet stove putting out the heat, music singing in the background and I can't help but to reflect on the many incredible moments I experienced during the brief 4 days that was Art and Soul 2009.  It is held every year in various parts of the country but generally hits Portland sometime in early October. 
     Just last night Mija, Christina, Helga and I were laughing so hard we could barely stop ourselves from wetting our pants.  We had gotten together after dinner in our hotel room to share our 'finds' and show each other the art we made in class.  It was already 9:00pm by the time we got up to the room. After all the excitement of our little "Show and Tell" wore off, the wine and the chocolate helped loosen our lips and soon we were telling our secret pasts lives to each other.  One person's included tales of being a proprietor of LSD during the Haight-Ashbury days.   Another's including stories of illegitimate sons.  But soon the wine had us entertaining thoughts of the absurd.  Someone mentioned suppositories and suddenly the idea surfaced 'next art challenge: things you last put up your butt'.  Howling with laughter our imaginations brought us to ever more absurd places until around 11pm we were suddenly too tired to continue. 
    After everyone was gone I lay in bed pondering the conversations of the day.  Aside from making some amazing art and some even more amazing new friends I suddenly realized my 'artist construct' had dramatically changed.
     I, like many of my generation was taught that artists were tortured souls who had no other means to connect with people.  Jackson Polluck got himself so drunk that he killed himself in a car crash, Van Gogh spent too much time alone and ended up cutting off his ear.  Seraphine made her own wine and though she sold a few paintings in her lifetime, died in an insane asylum.  The list is so long that many of us have been convinced one must be crazy to be an artist.  Although I have disagreed with this construct for many years it wasn't until this weekend that I reaffirmed the importance of community.  Artistic community.   Making art with other people and sharing it.  When creatives get together an 'energy' bounces between them in an almost manic manner.  Call it what you like but it is so robust I can almost see it's presence.  And it is this 'energy' that keeps me coming back year after year to artist retreats like Art and Soul.  That, the laughter, the crude jokes and the secrets too.  Tonight, I am in love with almost everyone.